Just hours after FBI director James Comey confirmed that there was a federal investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump regaled supporters at a Kentucky rally with tales of 19th century political history and 21st century NFL quarterbacks.
Without addressing Comey’s testimony to Congress earlier in the day, the president appeared in front of a crowd of 18,000 supporters and basked in their applause.
He boasted that he was the reason that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had yet to sign with an NFL team. Kaepernick famously refused to stand for the national anthem throughout the 2016 NFL season and was the subject of national controversy as a result.
Trump claimed “there was an article today it was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump”. To the loud cheers that followed, he added: “The people of Kentucky like it when people stand for the American flag.”
Trump, who had been touting the perceived historic similarities between himself and Andrew Jackson, also spent much of the rally touting the philosophy of Jackson’s arch-rival, Henry Clay.
The president lauded Clay for his American System, which called for funding internal improvements with canals. Trump’s praise for Clay – who served as speaker of the House, senator, secretary of state and three-time Whig nominee for president – was deeply discordant with his previous praise of Jackson. The seventh president of the United States vehemently opposed the American System and once said that one of his great regrets in life was not shooting Clay.
Despite ignoring Russia in his speech, Trump did mention the ongoing Capitol Hill fight over healthcare reform. He described repealing and replacing Obamacare as important because it was necessary before any tax reform legislation could be passed.
“We want a very big tax cut,” he said, “but cannot do that until we keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare.”
Trump also engaged in his usual dark populist rhetoric, warning “of a financial system stacked against the American people”.
In his view, “These entrenched interests will do anything they can to keep the broken system in place, but they will fail and we will win because we are fighting on the side of our great American heritage.”
He also seemed to take pleasure in needling the crowd about the upset loss of their hometown basketball team, the Louisville Cardinals, in the NCAA tournament on Sunday. Speaking in the venue where Louisville played for more than a half century, he told the crowd, “You just worry about your basketball and I’ll take care of the rest.”
Not only is the team loyally supported in Louisville, but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, attending in support of the president on Monday, is an alumni of the school and a die-hard fan.
Attendees shared the lack of concern about Russian influence in the 2016 election. Wendy Lambert of Lynchville, Kentucky said: “I don’t believe in any of the Russian hacking or all of that stuff. I don’t believe so because it was all a setup.”
She added that in her opinion the setup “was mostly on the Democrats, on the Hillary side”.
Janice Whitworth of Louisville, Kentucky, echoed those views, noting “there hasn’t been found any evidence of it yet”. She said that while Russia was “maybe using the media ... none of the election devices or machines are connected to the internet” so she wasn’t concerned about hacking.